The BC Court of Appeal came down today in favour of Norwegian-owned aquaculture giant Mainstream-Cermaq in the matter of a controversial campaign targeting the industry. British activist Don Staniford, who devised the “Salmon Farming Kills” slogan and series of graphics and web postings – modeled on cigarette packages and containing various warnings about the hazards of open net pen fish farms – had successfully defended a defamation suit brought in the BC Supreme Court last year by a Canadian subsidiary of Norwegian government-owned Cermaq.
The court ruled today on the company’s appeal, reversing the earlier decision. The judgement grants the company a perpetual injunction against the cigarette-themed campaign and related materials, which will undoubtedly be seen by critics of SLAPP suits – designed to discourage public criticism of corporations and governments – as a blow to free speech. Staniford’s campaign linked cigarettes to salmon farming not just through human and environmental health impacts, but in terms of the pattern of denial of science by the aquaculture lobby.
According to the judgement, “The appellant sought general and punitive damages for allegedly defamatory comments made by the respondent in various publications, as well as a permanent injunction restraining him from publishing similar words and images in the future. The trial judge found the defence of fair comment applied to the defamatory comments and dismissed the action.”
The Court of Appeal found error in the trial judge’s interpretation of “fair comment” with regards to Stanford’s activities. “The defamatory publications did not identify by a clear reference the facts upon which the comments were based that were contained in other documents. The trial judge’s order dismissing the appellant’s claim is set aside, and the permanent injunction is granted.”
In addition to a permanent ban on disseminating similar materials in the future, the court awarded Mainstream $25,000 in general damages and $50,000 in punitive damages, noting, “The respondent is punished for his misconduct during the trial by awarding the appellant special costs of the action.”
Staniford had ignored a court order to cease his “Salmon Farming Kills” campaign during the original proceedings.
Currently on vacation in Ireland, Staniford issued the following statement in advance of the judgement:
Win, lose or draw, the Norwegian Government should hang their heads in shame for abusing the Canadian courts to clamp down on free speech. This is a blatant SLAPP suit designed to kill global criticism of Norway’s disease-ridden salmon farming industry. However, far from stemming dissent this lawsuit has served only to amplify the campaign to clean up the Norwegian-owned salmon farming industry. ‘Salmon Farming Kills’ is now common parlance – even at home in Norway where Norwegian newspapers recently reported on the health hazards and scientists warned against the consumption of contaminated farmed salmon.
Staniford, who relocated his base of operations to Europe and the UK after a spell in Canada – where he developed the “Salmon Farming Kills” campaign – has not yet indicated whether he intends to pursue the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.